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A passive approach at the plate is a major problem for the Milwaukee Brewers

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Swinging more often at strikes could be the key to an offensive turnaround

MLB: Miami Marlins at Milwaukee Brewers
Daniel Vogelbach swings at fewer pitches in the strike zone than any Brewers hitter.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the offense for the Milwaukee Brewers has been painful to watch most nights, struggling to the tune of 3.75 runs per game (5th-worst in MLB). Yes, Christian Yelich has missed most of the season and others like Kolten Wong, Lorenzo Cain, and Omar Narvaez have been out with injuries, too; however, there seems to be an “approach” issue with the lineup.

Milwaukee hitters have swung at the fewest pitches in the strike zone in MLB, swinging just 65.2% of the time. While not every ball thrown “in the zone” is a good pitch to hit – nor are all of them called a strike – it means the Brewers are watching a ton of hittable pitches. While a number of Brewers are swinging at a higher percentage of in-zone pitches than that, only Avisail Garcia is in the top-70 hitters in MLB (minimum 50 plate appearances) in this category.

They currently see the 5th-highest percentage of called strikes in the big leagues, including the 4th-most first pitch strikes by percentage. That shows the Brewers are falling behind in the count quite often and failing to capitalize on other pitches in the zone when they are ahead in the count.

The question is, are the Brewers simply trying to be more patient or is it a flaw in their lineup construction? Of course, it could be a little of both. The idea of being more patient, in general, sounds good – but you need to see results. Milwaukee is not seeing production out of their patience – or inability to pull the trigger on pitches in the zone.

In theory, quality patience at the dish results in more walks and a better OBP, as wells as power production by getting into hitter’s counts more often than the average club. The Brewers currently rank 16th in baseball in walk percentage (BB%) at 8.6% - not terrible, but not good enough if your team is taking so many pitches in the zone. Even more disturbing, Milwaukee’s .298 OBP is 5th-worst in MLB.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at San Diego Padres
Tyrone Taylor’s aggressive approach has served him well thus far (120 wRC+)
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, one can deal with fewer walks and a lower OBP if the team is consistently putting the ball in play and producing extra-base hits at a high clip. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for Milwaukee, either.

The Brewers have the 4th-worst slugging percentage in MLB at .362 and 5th from the bottom in extra-base hit percentage with 6.6% of all at-bats ending with an extra-base hit. And these low outputs have nothing to do with “putting the ball in play” with weak grounders, cheap singles, and fly outs. To the surprise of no one, Milwaukee has a 27.2% strikeout percentage (K%), 4th-highest in baseball.

Basically, every aspect of the offense is failing. And while one could point to career numbers of players and the lack of star power in the lineup – and those are fair points – maybe the Crew should adjust their strategy at the plate and be more aggressive. What would it hurt? It can’t get worse. Hunt strikes and attack at will.

A good example of the negative effects of passive hitting is Christian Yelich over the past few seasons. In 2019, Yelich swung at 71.2% of pitches in the zone, easily the highest percentage in his career. His 2019 campaign was his best ever, destined for 50 HR before the knee injury cut his season short.

Flip to 2020 and he swung at only 60.1% of pitches in the zone, easily the lowest of his career. Yelich produced his worst batting average and OBP in his career, along with his highest K%. There’s always a balance, but not swinging at strikes – especially with how much velocity and movement pitchers have now – is a death sentence for your bat.

Again, I don’t know if this is a team philosophy or if it comes down to the individual hitters. Past thinking for many teams was to see lots of pitches, get into the bullpen, and then go to work. The problem now is that it seems every club has a stable full of relievers throwing 95+ mph and at least one secondary pitch with wicked movement.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Chicago Cubs
Luis Urias’ patience paid off early with more walks, but he now has just 1 BB and 13 K in his last 8 contest.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

In a lot of cases, your best bet may to ambush the starter early since he is trying to pace himself a bit. Many times those hurlers don’t even use all of their pitches the first time through the lineup.

Or maybe the lack of swings is just a product of the individual hitters. That may be a tougher adjustment for many, but not impossible. Success in baseball requires constant adjustments: every season, every opponent, every game, every pitcher, every at-bat, and even pitch-to-pitch. It seems as though the league has the Brewers figured out, while Milwaukee appears to struggle on a daily basis.

Of course, we all assume the Brewers’ staff has their pulse on everything with the club, especially with how much they lean on advanced metrics. At the same time, they are all human and perhaps it is something that has slipped through the cracks. Or, maybe, they have recognized these issues but don’t see any of it being related to their offensive woes.

No matter what the reasoning, let us all hope that the Brewers’ hitters can make some adjustments so that they don’t waste what has been a mostly-historic effort from the pitching. There is still a lot of season left, but a turnaround is needed very soon.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference